By Bryan Dietzler
For the first time in this writer’s 43 years of existence, with 33 years of that being a football fan, I took a trip with the family to Canton, Ohio to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had been hoping to go for years but just never had the time. It was finally time to go and visit one of the most historic places in all of sports. So, I took the family and made the trek from Iowa across the Midwest to Canton, Ohio to check it out.
The Hall does not look as big on the outside as some might think. However, on the inside, it looks very big. The entry way doesn’t give much indication of the size of it but don’t let that fool you, there is plenty to see and do in that building.
The first section takes you into the long history of football cards. This was near and dear to my heart because I had been collecting cards, off and on, since the early 1980’s. There were some of the most fascinating cards I had ever seen contained in this display. You had Knute Rockne cards, Bronco Nagurski cards and the rookie cards of many other famous players. The exhibit was very interesting and gave me a deeper look inside the world of card collecting.
A quick walk up a hallway, which has several Hall of Fame player painted on its left wall, will take you to the circular lower level where you can see the history of football. For those who don’t know the history of pro football, this is the place for you. There is an outer ring which contains the decade by decade detail while the second ring contains information about the various people who helped build the NFL especially its commissioners. There was great information to be shared there.
At the very center of the lower floor’s inner ring is a statue of Jim Thorpe one of the first to ever play professional football. The statue is a beautiful reminder of Pro Football’s long history and may be the most amazing feature the Hall has to offer.
A quick climb up a set of stairs will take you to the second level where you can see many different things. There are several places where you can learn about NFL records that have been set. There is also some additional discussion on the history of the league. Some of the more interesting things include how the inside of an NFL quarterback’s helmet looks (remember they have radio communicators). You can compare the size of your hands to various NFL players (my hand is as big as Troy Aikman’s). It’s a room full of many amazing things.
Stepping out of the second-floor room into what I call the “orange juicer” (the part of the building with the cone on top of it) and heading down the hallway, you will come to the most important room in the building. This is where all the busts of the Hall of Famers’ are kept. From the first Hall of Fame class in 1963 all the way up to today, every player is represented in this section of the Hall. It’s a simple place, with a bust, their name and the teams that the enshrines played for.
Being a fan of the Chicago Bears, I was particularly drawn to those members of the Hall of Fame who were former Bears’ players. But there were other enshrines who caught my attention. They included Reggie White, Derrick Thomas, and John Madden, among others. The history of football is wrapped around those walls, and it’s a reminder of the great men who have played the game.
After you are done looking at the busts, there are kiosks that provide a recap of the career of every Hall of Fame player in the Hall of Fame. It’s worth it to find out more about your favorite Hall of Fame player or any of the many that are part of the Hall. I found this to be a very rewarding experience and one that I will always treasure.
The Hall of Fame features a couple of movies to view by those visiting the Hall. One of them is just down from where the player’s busts are located. If you can find a time that suits you, then you should go see the film “A Game for Life.” The film features stories from five Hall of Fame players detailing how they overcame obstacles to get into the Hall. Joe Namath narrates the movie and does a fine job speaking and acting. At the end of the film, actors portraying Vince Lombardi and George Halas appear and give several famous quotes from each of their coaching careers.
The message that comes from the film is enlightening and shows you that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to. It was a very inspirational film.
After that, you can walk into the space where the more modern exhibits are kept. There is some information about the NFL’s European league which some people may remember from years ago. There is a display that features information on the Pro Bowl and some interesting facts about current football teams and players. Relics from recently broken records adorn the rest of the room, especially at its center. The relics consist mostly of jerseys from players who broke records over the past couple of seasons.
If you want to get a look at the Ralph Wilson Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center you can view part of it from an overlook on the second floor. It’s a very nice view.
Just outside of that room are the displays featuring the history the Super Bowl. If you walk into the room and go to the right and you will see an actual Lombardi Trophy encased in glass. On the walls of this room are details about every Super Bowl with artifacts from those Super Bowls. There are screens that tell you about the Super Bowls. You can learn a lot just by reading what is written and “playing” on these walls.
The Hall has a film that shows highlights from the last Super Bowl. The seats rotate around and the screen projects around the room. They showed some great footage from the Patriots win over the Falcons. The detail was clear, and you could see the look on the player’s faces. The look on Tom Brady’s, for example, was calm and cool. You could see that he was easily in control during their record comeback.
When you exit the theater, you will come upon a display of all the rings that have been worn by the past Super Bowl winners. It’s amazing to see how they have “grown” over the years. Some of them were very big and very detailed. Having never seen a Super Bowl ring up close before, or me it was a very interesting experience.
Going into the basement of the Hall will give you a chance to see some extra things they have on display. As you enter the basement and turn to the right, you will see items from the current class of Hall of Famers that is coming in this August. I saw a few of Kurt Warner’s jerseys, some game balls that Kenny Easley had received and some personal items belonging to Jerry Jones. There was a little bit of everything from all the new enshrines.
There was a display about referees and a small section featuring some original items from the famous Washington Redskins fan group the Hogettes. Having seen them on television so much when I was growing up, it was great to see some remnants of one of the most recognizable groups of fans in NFL history. It sure brought back a lot of memories.
One of the final things to look at in the basement is the recognition of players from colleges that are traditionally African American. The display included items from various star athletes from those schools who have played in the NFL. The shoes that Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton wore when he broke the NFL’s rushing record are on display there. It was one of the most interesting displays in the Hall.
I was lucky enough to be able to witness a live showing of some of the artifacts that the Hall of Fame has in their archives. Most of the items appealed to me included a ball used in Super Bowl XX, the gloves wide receivers use to catch the football and some photos. Perhaps the most appealing item I got to look at was the Hall of Fame ring that once belonged to Bronco Nagurski. I even got to try it on, and despite the fact it was a size 19, it fit the top part of my index finger. Truly an amazing experience.
Like any other museum or sports Hall of Fame, there is a huge gift shop where you can find just about anything that you want from every team in the NFL. Any football fan could easily spend a lot of time (and money) there.
Admission to the Hall of Fame is relatively inexpensive and will be worth every dollar you pay. While some people say that you can see it all in three hours, I spent five and a half hours there. I could have easily been there a couple of more hours. I wanted to see everything I could because I don’t get out that way that often. It won’t be the last time I go there.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s a place for any football fan who loves the game and wants to learn more about it.
It’s a must for any football fan.